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The 5 Most Common Beginner Mistakes in Poker
Every mistake you make at a poker table costs you money.
Every mistake you make at a poker table costs you money.
Unfortunately for most poker beginners, it's hard to learn from those mistakes -- unless it costs you your entire stack.
More often than not mistakes you make will cost you a small pot. Your contribution to that lost pot may only have been a fraction of your total stack.
In such a case many beginners fail to take the lost pot into account and neglect to evaluate the magnitude of their mistakes. Those kinds of mistakes, although less costly than stack-losing blunders, happen more frequently which means they're actually more expensive in the long run.
The choices you make at the table are the raft on which you float. Any leak, no matter how small, will eventually start to sink you.
You can spend all of your time furiously bailing yourself out, or you can take the time now to fix the leaks once and for all.
5) Hoping for Coin Flips
This leak typically stems from players watching too much poker on TV and not spending enough time studying the real game. TV poker, though entertaining, is rarely a good way to learn solid strategic play as a beginner -- especially if you're trying to play cash games.
A constant occurrence in TV tournament poker is players searching for coin flips. The viewers are bombarded with the sight of players excitedly taking coin flips in a desperate attempt to prolong their tournament life.
In cash-game poker it's almost never correct to search for a pre-flop coin flip. Often, when faced with an all-in bet, a beginner player holding A-K will make the call under the logic:
- I'm ahead of any nonpair hands
- I'm a coin flip to any pair below KK
- I'm only behind KK and AA, and I even have three outs to KK
With this rationale it seems like a good idea to make the call here. Unfortunately for these beginners, cash-game poker is unlike tournament poker.
In the late stages of a tournament, especially the final table (which is what makes up the vast majority of all TV poker), players are often looking for a hand with any showdown value to put it all-in with pre-flop.
This can include any ace and any two high cards, making A-K a very easy call in this situation.
In a cash game it's a very different situation. Other than in rare occurrences of players being on uber-tilt, or just wanting to go home, the only hands players will push with pre-flop will almost exclusively be made up of pocket pairs and A-K.
This means other than in these rare scenarios calling with A-K puts you at being a chop a very small percentage of the time, slightly behind a small pocket pair (55-QQ) a decent percentage of the time, and behind KK or AA the rest of the time.
It's a money-losing play to "hope" for a coin flip pre-flop in a cash game.
4) Overplaying Hands
Another common mistake made by beginners is overplaying their hands. Watch players who are very new to the game and many of them will never fold anything equal to or better than top pair.
If they have a pair of aces they won't even think of folding since aces are the highest pair you can have.
The more poker you play the less comfortable you will get with marginal strength hands. The contrast between the emotional affect of a beginner flopping bottom two pair and that of a pro flopping bottom two is night and day.
A beginner gets filled with glee flopping a hand as big as two pair, while the pro understands it's a sucker's bet. Here's an example of why this contrast exists:
The beginner sees this hand and knows that they have a huge hand on this flop. There is no straight or flush on the board, meaning chances are they have the best hand. Beginners will be willing to go to town on this board.
The professional sees the same board and understands that there are only three options: His opponents have nothing, and he wins the pot on the flop, little more than the blinds; his opponents have one pair, and might be willing to call a single bet; or his opponents have a set, or a bigger two pair.
The professional knows that they will win a small pot or anyone willing to put money into this pot is likely to have them beat.
The only hand the professional can make money off of is a top pair, big kicker scenario, where the player with that hand overplays it themselves. Unfortunately it's not possible for the professional to know if the player is overplaying a top pair or playing a set normally.
Other than the occasional exception, if you have anything less than the high end of the straight you have a marginal hand and should not be looking to play a very large pot. Only when you have the nuts or an absolute monster should you be looking to chunk your stack and stuff the pot to the gills.
3) Drawing on Dangerous Boards
When you play a drawing hand, you're playing to hit your draw and stuff the pot when you do. You don't play a drawing hand to hit and check.
Once you hit your draw (flush draw or straight draw) you're committed to putting money into the pot. This money will be anywhere from a small amount to your whole stack.
When you pay for a draw on a dangerous board, sometimes hitting is the worst thing that can happen to you. The simplest example of this is drawing to a flush on a paired board.
Once you hit your flush, anyone willing to put big money into the pot has a very decent chance of having a full house. There is nothing worse than paying to draw dead and chunking off your stack when you think you just hit a good card.
When there is a real chance that hitting your draw will leave you with the second-best hand, you want to keep the pot as small as you can. Unless you can somehow get a read that your hand is best, you never want to assume or hope.
2) Playing on Scared Money
Doyle Brunson says "The key to No-Limit ... is to put a man to a decision for all his chips." In other words, you have to be willing to put your opponents all-in, and make an all-in call yourself at any time.
Many beginners are playing poker on a short roll, or without a roll altogether. Because of this, these players are playing under the knowledge that they simply cannot afford to lose the money they have in play.
This is known as playing on scared money. If you're unable and unwilling to risk your entire stack, your opponents will use that fear to run over you.
To play poker successfully, you have to disassociate the money in play with the money in your checking account. Losing a full buy-in at a No-Limit table should be no more difficult to you than buying a hamburger.
Obviously you would have preferred not to have spent the money, but you got to do what you got to do.
Until you're truly able to disconnect from the money you need to put in to play, it's not possible to play No-Limit poker correctly. Play games within your roll, and go into the game with the correct mind-set to play proper poker.
Remember, making money is a byproduct of winning at the game.
You do not go to a poker table with the intent of making money; you go with the intent of playing a high-quality game. Money is just the way players keep score.
1) Illogical (or Transparent) Bet Sizing
If the bets you make give your opponent an obvious picture of the hand you're holding, then your opponents will never make any mistakes. If your opponents are never making mistakes, you're not going to be making any money.
Lots of beginners will think of only one aspect of betting, ignoring all the others. As a result, their bet sizing becomes a detriment rather than an asset.
Imagine if you have a decent hand, such as two pair on the flop. You're first to act and have to decide how much to bet. Lots of beginners will only think of the first aspect of bet sizing.
- "I want my opponents to call my bet so I can make money on the hand, so I should make a bet small enough to make sure they call me."
You bet $10 into a $60 pot. You successfully completed your single objective but now you're giving all your opponents 7-1 odds (or better once other players make calls in the hand) to draw against you. In reality your bet size has to be small enough to get a call yet large enough that you cut down the pot odds to anyone drawing to a hand better than yours.
Another example of this is a beginner with a strong hand will make a bet to protect that hand, but size it so irrationally large that they will never make any money on the hand. A common scenario:
$1/$2 game; beginner player is dealt pocket aces in the big blind. One player limps, a second player raises to $10 and everyone folds to the beginner; the beginner moves all-in for $145.
There is $15 in the pot, and he just raised to $145. It is almost never a good idea to raise over 9.5 times the pot. Yes, he protected his hand and won the pot, but he extracted the absolute minimum amount of value from it.
Anytime you play a hand in a way that extracts less value than possible, you make a mistake and lose money. With pocket aces your opponent is a serious dog to your hand. You could possibly be ahead by a margin of as large as 8-1.
This means you want your opponent to call your reraise. You want to make a raise small enough for them to call, yet large enough to maximize their mistake. If all goes well your opponent will think you're bluffing and move all-in after you. If you move all-in first, chances are that will never happen.
You need to size your bets in a way that maximizes the mistakes of your opponents. If you'd like to learn more about bet sizing, PokerListings writer Dan Skolovy wrote a great article on the topic. Read it here.
More strategy articles from Sean Lind:
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